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Scientific advancements in DNA testing has helped officials learn the identity of a girl whose remains were found more than two decades ago.
The Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia has been investigating the shooting death of a Jane Doe since her skeletal remains were found on Sept. 27, 2001. On Monday, authorities announced that, with the help of Othram's advanced DNA testing, they have identified the victim as Patricia Agnes Gildawie.
Gildawie hasn’t been seen since 1975, when she was 17 years old.
“Identifying this young woman solves a mystery that has been more than 47 years in the making,” said Ed O’Carroll, Bureau Commander of Major Crimes and Cyber and Forensics. “Our community should take comfort in knowing that our detectives never stop working these cases.”
The case began 21 years ago when a construction crew came upon the skeletal remains near a drainage ditch behind an apartment complex near Lincoln Circle in McLean, Virginia — just outside Washington D.C., near what's now known as Tyson's Corner.
According to NamUs, a national clearinghouse for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons, the human remains were spread around a slope behind an apartment complex and found with tattered clothes and accessories, including pieces of shoes, a bangle bracelet, a ring and a pullover sweater. A postmortem examination of the bones revealed the victim — initially believed to be a Black girl between 15 and 20 years old — died from a gunshot wound to the head, according to Fairfax County officials.
The postmortem interval, or the time between when the victim died and when she was discovered, was also misestimated to be about four months, according to NamUs
O'Carroll admitted to The Washington Post that the inaccurate initial findings affected the investigation.
"Not only were they off by the time frame, but they were also off by the race, which really threw detectives off in their search," said O'Carroll. "We now think she was murdered not long after she was known alive, which was 1975."
Despite attempts to identify the girl's body over the years, the case grew cold.
Earlier this year, cold case detectives enlisted Othram, a Texas-based company providing advanced DNA testing and forensic-grade genomics for law enforcement agencies around the country. The case was funded by DNASolves, which crowdfunds and collects volunteered DNA to help solve cold cases with the latest scientific methods.
Othram identified the victim as Patricia Gildawie, also known as “Choubi” (which means "little cabbage" in French) after following the genealogical trail to a half-sister, Veronique Duperly.
“Patricia Gildawie’s remains were found in 2001, over 25 years after she disappeared,” Othram’s Chief Development Officer, Kristen Mittelman, told Oxygen.com. “There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the timing and details of her death. Law enforcement perseverance, along with Othram’s advanced DNA testing, was critical for identifying and giving her family the answers they so much needed.”
Arriving at Gildawie’s half-sister helped investigators piece together Gildawie’s story.
Fairfax County authorities say Gildawie was born in France in February 1958 and came to the U.S. when she was eight months old.
By the early 1970s, Gildawie lived in the city of Fairfax and was known to be “dating an older man,” according to police. Though the 30-something man’s name isn't known, authorities say he worked at a now-defunct upholstery store in Vienna — just a few miles from McLean — and was known to drive a white Cadillac Eldorado with a red interior which he'd loaned to Gildawie.
Gildawie was last seen by Duperly on Feb. 8, 1975.
In an interview with D.C. NBC affiliate WRC, Duperly explained that Gildawie had been driving the Eldorado when they met the last time, and her sister was covered in bruises.
"Bruises on her upper arms, her shoulders, and the back of her legs," Duperly told WRC. "I said, 'Well, why are you so black and blue?' She said, 'I fall a lot.' I said, 'No, you don't.'"
Duperly told local news station WTOP that's she's certain the man must be connected to her sister's disappearance.
“I’m quite certain in my heart — now, no evidence — that he probably had something to do with her disappearance,” Duperly told the station. It was after that February meet-up that Gildawie stopped showing up at her parents' house to occasionally sleep and have meals.
"At first when she disappeared and we put posters up everywhere in the first couple of years," Duperly told D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA. "And then after a while we had gone on with our lives, always wishing there would be a phone call or a knock on the door."
"It has been a long, long time," she added. "You go through life and she's still in your heart and in your memories, but you don't expect after so many years that anything would ever come about it."
“Advancements in technology have given my cold case detectives an opportunity to pursue fresh leads and bring some relief to families that have been long-suffering with the unknown,” Ed O’Carroll continued.
Though Patricia Gildawie was finally identified, her killer remains unknown.
Investigators ask that anyone with information contact the Fairfax County Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477) to be eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
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